Friday, August 21, 2009

The lost childhood

Too much TV watching and lack of communication with their parents are causing many children to feel stressed-out

Photo: This is a representative picture

By Shevlin Sebastian

Suresh studies in Class eight in a prominent school in Kochi. One day he came home and told his father, “Papa I feel ashamed to go to school in a Maruti. My classmates come in Skodas, Lancers or Scorpios. You have to buy me a Honda City.”

Suresh’s father has taken the demand so seriously that he is now looking out to buy a Honda City. “Nowadays children are dictating to parents what they want,” says paediatrician Dr. Abraham K. Paul. “Sometimes, parents are giving things even before the child asks for it. As a result children don’t value what they get.”

And neither do they value their parents. Most parents are working and in the evenings when they return from the office, both husband and wife are exhausted. Hence they are unable to spend quality time with their children. Eventually, the family will have dinner silently in front of the television.

“There is no conversation like in earlier times when the family would sit around the dining table,” says Paul.

So, children do not get a chance to express the excitements and disappointments that took place in school that day. Like if a new teacher had come to the school. Or the fight that took place between two boys.

“Children are unable to give vent to their feelings,” he says. “In the end there is no emotional connection between parents and children.”

If there are grandmothers, unlike in an earlier era, where they would tell stories from the Ramayana or the Mahabharata to the grandchildren, nowadays, they also sit in front of the TV.

“On holidays, along with the grandmother the child is in front of the TV from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., followed by more viewing with the parents,” says Paul. So, in essence, a child is watching TV for 12 hours a day.

One immediate fall-out is warped values. “They see scenes of sex and murder and think it is okay,” says Paul. “They have a distorted view of reality.”

Another result is the rising number of children who are obese. There are 12 and 14-year-olds who weigh 60 kgs. They travel to school in a car, come back and watch TV or play games on the computer. And all the while they are munching junk food.

For students of Class 1 to 5, there are too many tuition classes. “Sometimes there is no need for this but the parents want their child to be at the top of the class,” says Paul. “These children feel very stressed-out.”

Apart from the home, in school, also, the children suffer from varying kinds of stress. “Teachers may pass negative comments when the student does not perform well,” says Dr. C.P. Somanath, consultant psychiatrist at LakeshoreHospital. Unfair comparisons with other students by the teacher can be stressful. Cruel remarks by another child can cause pain.

Homemaker Meenakshi Raghavan says that nowadays schools are in a frenzy to assign projects for the children. “Once my daughter, who is in Class 4, had to do three projects in one week,” she says. “The teachers are competing between themselves in giving these difficult assignments. As a result, children suffer from anxiety.”

This anxiety manifests itself in physical ailments like a headache, stomach pain, a bout of vomiting or bed-wetting. “Some children develop a school phobia,” says Paul.
Children will complain of a stomach ache minutes before the school bus will arrive. As soon as the bus goes off they are all right. On Saturdays and Sundays they have no problem. When they get up in the mornings the first thing they ask their mothers is, ‘Is it a holiday today?’ “Sadly, these children no longer enjoy going to school,” he says.

So what are the solutions to ease the crisis faced by children?

Paul suggests the curtailing of TV viewing. “On weekdays, it should not be more than one-and-a-half hours while on weekends, it should be four hours,” he says.

Children should be encouraged to play group games like football, cricket or hockey. “It is in group play that children learn to cope with defeats,” he says. “Nowadays children do not know how to handle failures and disappointments.”

Schools should also develop a curriculum where the overall development of a child can take place. “Each teacher should show sensitivity when they are dealing with an individual student,” says Somanath.

Finally and most importantly, says Paul, “Parents should show their love physically and emotionally, instead of monetarily.”

(Some names have been changed)

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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